You find out that you are expecting a baby, and then start looking up things like; ‘The do’s and don’ts of pregnancy’

Amongst the midnight bathroom runs, the hormone roller-coaster, heartburn, restless legs and baby brain, one thing that catches your eye is advice telling you that you should not be sleeping on your back when pregnant.

We are here to help you understand why and when you should avoid laying on your back as well as some alternative sleeping positions you can try when pregnant (especially if you have always been a back sleeper!).

Why Sleep Is So Important During Pregnancy

It is important to try and get at least seven hours of shut eye a night while pregnant. (We know this is a big ask) 

This is because:

  • It’s how your blood vessels restore themselves, which is important now that they’re under increased pressure from the extra blood flow required for bubs  
  • Helps keep your immune system running  
  • It helps press the restart button, helping you combat increased fatigue 

For more information on why sleep is important during pregnancy click here.

When Should You Stop Laying On Your Back

It is generally recommended that you replace back-sleeping with side-sleeping from around 16-20 weeks gestation.

How Sleeping On Your Back Can Affect You And Your Growing Baby

Sleeping on your back after the 16-20 week mark can rest the entire weight of your uterus and baby on your intestines and major blood vessels. Not only can this be very uncomfortable as your baby grows, but the position can interfere with circulation to your heart and your baby.

The main vein that can be compressed is the vena cava which is responsible for returning blood from your lower body back to your heart.

Pressure on this vein can result in reduced blood flow to the foetus, giving your baby less oxygen and nutrients, and not to mention make you feel quite lightheaded and yuck!

Some other reasons we steer you away from laying on your back during pregnancy is because this position can also:

  • Aggravate your back pain
  • Aggravate haemorrhoids
  • Make breathing more difficult
  • Slow your digestion
  • Cause dizziness (from low blood pressure).

What Happens If You Go To Sleep On Your Side, But Wake On Your Back

If you occasionally wake on your back, don’t fret!

It is ok if every now and then you unwittingly turn on to your back in your sleep.

You will most likely wake up if your belly is making you uncomfortable.

If you find you are waking on your back regularly, you can press a pillow behind your back when you are on your side to prevent you from being able to turn on to your back during your sleep (as shown in Option 3 below).

We always recommend speaking with your Obstetrician first, but if you are finding it increasingly difficult to lay on your side, you may be able to lay on your back but place a pillow underneath one hip to offset your position so it’s safer for you and your baby.

Side Sleeping During Pregnancy

The recommended way to sleep throughout your pregnancy is on your side.

Some say that lying on your left side is better as it aids in increasing blood and nutrients to your growing baby however there isn’t solid evidence to support this.

If you manage to sleep comfortably on your right side just worry about getting a good night’s sleep while you can!

There are lots of variations for pillow positioning that you can use, but below are some that you might like to try.

Option 1 – Pillow between your knees

Try laying on your side, with a nice thick pillow between your knees.

This position is great for your lower back and hip as it minimises rotation in your pelvis and lower back.

Option 2 – Pillow under your belly

If you feel that your tummy is getting too heavy when lying on your side, try putting a thinner pillow underneath your belly to relieve some of the weight.

This will also help with lower back and hip pain.  

*Obviously not a real bump – No Chi Ball was harmed in the making of this photo.

Option 3 – Wedge a pillow behind your back

If you find that you are consistently waking up on your back and are concerned, wedge a pillow behind your back and slightly under your bottom when lying in your side. This will encourage you to not roll over onto your back.

Option 4 – Propped up

You may be suffering your heartburn or reflux. Propping your upper body up higher with a few extra pillows may help alleviate this when you are sleeping.

Tummy Sleepers

If you have always been a tummy sleeper, that’s okay! Sleeping on your tummy in early pregnancy is reported safe. However, there will be a point where your baby bump makes it uncomfortable, which is when you’ll have to switch positions. 

Other options include using a specialised pregnancy pillow, click here for some more information from Healthline on ‘The Best Pregnancy Pillows of 2020’* .

*Note that the above link is general information and not a direct recommendation of Phyx. Physio + Pilates.

Hip or back pain now that you’re pregnant? More info here